Study: Number of uninsured in Summit, Vail and Aspen remains high compared to state
September 19, 2017
The debate over the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," persists in Washington, D.C., but new data from a statewide study released Monday shows increases in the insured population, though with smaller gains along the Western Slope.
Since the launch of the ACA four years ago, approximately 600,000 more Coloradans — roughly the combined populations of Colorado Springs and Fort Collins — are now insured. About 28,000 of those residents, according to the Colorado Health Access Survey, live within the Interstate 70 mountain region, which includes Summit, Eagle, Grand, Garfield and Pitkin counties. That modest gain has come to pass despite difficulties in obtaining coverage — namely inflated costs.
"This area has really struggled with high uninsured rates, as high as 25 percent of residents in this five-county region," said Allie Morgan, legislative director and policy analyst for the Colorado Health Institute, which authors the biennial study. "You have made progress there, but still that is tied for the fifth-highest uninsured rate regionally in the state. We're moving in the right direction, but residents of this area are still more likely to be uninsured."
For 2017, the survey of 10,000 Coloradans points to a 13.1 percent uninsured rate for the state's northwest corner, including 10.2 percent for the mountain region, of which Summit accounts for about a sixth of its total population. That means some 157,000 people maintain a form of insurance, while about 18,000 residents along the corridor do not.
The current mountain region uninsured percentage is also down from about 12 percent in 2015 (the high mark was 25 percent in 2011). All of that compares unfavorably to the state average, at its new historic low of 6.5 percent since the data was first tracked in 2009.
Just 3 percent of Colorado's children 18 years of age and under are uninsured, and because of the availability of Medicare once individuals turn 65, less than 1 percent of that age demographic also lacks proper health coverage. Meanwhile, people between the ages of 19-29, and 30-39 — the so-called "young invincibles" — are still the largest populations in the state without insurance, together representing around 11.5 percent.
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While the reasons for insufficient health coverage vary, the survey states one in seven Coloradans claims they simply don't know how to acquire insurance. Locals continue to identify the rising cost of monthly premiums as the primary culprit.
"We have the preliminary percentages of 27 percent increase in terms of premiums," Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said of expected statewide 2018 cost expansion. "Last year there were some counties that saw a 48 percent increase based on 21 percent statewide. I mean, we're picking winners and losers in the state right now, so we need help."
Across Colorado, the Hispanic populace also outpaces their non-Hispanic white counterparts with uninsured rates. Those lacking coverage among the minority group have dropped by more than half in the past six years — from 26 percent in 2011 to about 10 percent in 2017 — but that means one in 10 still go without insurance today, compared to approximately one in 20 white Coloradans.
Combined with an inability to drop below double-digits for uninsured in the mountain region, these gaps have countywide leadership searching for answers to the ever-changing health care conundrum.
"There are efforts that are happening," said Morgan, "but again I think our political environment is challenging in some ways. So it does seem like local, regional solutions may be a really promising step. It's not the ideal to do this piecemeal, but I think some communities are feeling like if they want to get anything done they need to do it at the city or the county level if the state is not going to pass something."
For many within the mountain region that encompasses Summit County, that's still not enough. And the appearance of statewide coverage gains through studies like the access survey end up hindering those on the Western Slope who remain without insurance due to backers of assistance programs starting to believe their support is no longer needed.
"The mission has not been accomplished here," said Sarah Vaine, Summit assistant county manager. "The community has been overwhelmed with people who can't get access to health care. And when funders look at the whole state and sort of see that as applicable to the entire state, that has the folks who can't get access suffering even more because the agencies that are here to help don't have the resources to do that."